Op-ed: Day 19 of the war

Hamas, unthinkably, remains potent, still hurting Israel practically, psychologically

Empathy and support for an Israel in its darkest hour are dissipating, in a war that we don’t want to define as existential but that is looking increasingly so

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

A still from a video released by Hamas's armed wing showing hostages Yocheved Lifshitz, left, and Nurit Cooper before their release from captivity, October 23, 2023. (screen capture)
A still from a video released by Hamas's armed wing showing hostages Yocheved Lifshitz, left, and Nurit Cooper before their release from captivity, October 23, 2023. (screen capture)

This Editor’s Note was sent out earlier Wednesday in ToI’s weekly update email to members of the Times of Israel Community. To receive these Editor’s Notes as they’re released, join the ToI Community here.

On the nineteenth day after Hamas committed unspeakable crimes against the people of Israel, brutally massacring over 1,400 inside our sovereign state, it can afford to feel quite satisfied with its standing. And that’s a diabolical situation.

The Israeli Air Force has been bombarding Hamas targets, manifestly causing considerable devastation above ground, and several times a day the IDF Spokesman gives a televised accounting of the airstrikes carried out and the Hamas commanders neutralized.

But Hamas remains all too evidently functional as a military and terrorist army, is still waging practical and pyschological war, and its most senior figures are not known to have been neutralized.

On Tuesday night, it sent terrorists by sea to try to attack two border towns. It maintains the capacity to launch barrages of rockets, including an ongoing effort to target the airport area. And its vast underground tunnel network is apparently still largely intact. Yocheved Lifshitz emerged on Monday from 17 days held captive in what she described as a “spiderweb,” and, in her undeniably candid press conference the next day, mentioned encountering wet floors and damp, but not collapsed ceilings or other devastation, as she was walked deep inside it with other hostages.

Along with its Hezbollah allies on the northern border, Hamas has forced the evacuation of some 130,000 Israelis from their homes in the south and the north — shrinking the areas of our tiny country in which the government now deems it safe for people to live, with endless personal and logistical consequences. Tens of thousands more, in areas not yet ordered to evacuate, have left their homes of their own volition, seeking greater safety in the center of the country.

The relentless rocket fire forces tens and hundreds of thousands of people, sometimes even more, to dash for shelter over and over and over again.

The economy, its tech spearhead already deeply undermined by months of bitter internal dispute over the government’s now-sidelined efforts to subjugate the judiciary, is nosediving further, and Israel’s international credit outlook is sinking. There’s barely a business that isn’t hurting badly. Volunteers are rushing to save Israeli agriculture, with foreign workers having left. Hundreds of thousands of Israeli reservists have been away from work since the unprecedented call-up that followed the October 7 horrors.

Hamas is predictably squeezing every ounce of possible leverage out of its 220 or so hostages — enthralling the world by the simple expedient of releasing just four people thus far, efficiently misrepresenting itself as humane. In the case of the redoubtable Yocheved Lishiftz, moreover, Israel’s authorities proved incapable of realizing that presenting, for live press coverage, a newly released elderly peace activist whose husband is still being held hostage might not enable wider understanding of the terror group’s cynical ruthlessness and genocidal ambitions. As she spoke her truth, where was the supportive presence of a government representative, capable of contextualizing her account?

Hamas’s October 7 hostage bonanza, furthermore, has thus far proved able to prevent Israel from launching its daily-hyped imminent ground offensive, with the US and other nations whose citizens are held desperate to avoid a larger war in Gaza in which those lives could be lost. Israelis are, of course, no less desperate to secure the freedom of the hostages; they are also desperate to see the eradication of Hamas and the return of some confidence that they will not be murdered in their homes by the terrorists next door.

Day by day, as the monstrousness of what was done to us fades fast from the memories of those overseas who think they have no stake in Israel’s survival and well-being, world attention and empathy is switching increasingly from slaughtered Israelis to bombarded Gazans.

Israelis are proving characteristically resilient even in the wake of the unprecedented catastrophe, whose endless stories of heroism and loss continue to emerge. Two hundred thousand Israelis have flown back to the country since October 7. The soldiers, standing army and reservists, are hugely motivated, even as the government still proves largely dysfunctional.

But international understanding of the context in which Israel went to war against Hamas is rapidly receding. Israel is fighting not in retaliation or out of revenge, but in order to ensure that Gaza’s terror-government cannot survive to repeat its barbarism, to deter our other more powerful enemies, and to restore Israelis’ faith that we can live here in something close to safety.

Yet not even the presentation to international journalists of unwatchable material documenting the mass killings, the atrocities, and the delight Hamas’s murderers took in carrying them out can offset the simple passage of time since October 7.

And then, of course, there are those many around the world who have lost or never had a moral compass when it comes to the killings of Jews, and only find it when the Jews and their state attempt to defend themselves.

On the nineteenth day after swarms of Hamas terrorists burst across our unconscionably under-protected border and rampaged deep into Israel, exulting as they brutally murdered our people, empathy and support for an Israel in its darkest hour are dissipating. And Hamas, unthinkably, retains potency and even the upper hand.

The only reason we’re not all spilling outrage here at international hypocrisy, and overflowing with concern for the soaring hostility to Jews everywhere, is that we’re still deep in this war — a war that we don’t want to define as existential, but that is looking increasingly so. And it’s not clear we’ve even really begun to fight back.

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